Indian Child Welfare Act Update

Submitted by admin on Wed, 04/27/2011 - 10:47
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Wabanaki Legal News
Fall 1996 (updated January 2002)


Note: This article is very old! It was created in 1996 and may not be accurate today. We are working on updates and will post them soon. 

Indian Child Welfare Act Update

Below are just a few answers to questions you may have.


What is the Indian Child Welfare Act?

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law which regulates placement proceedings involving Indian children. If your child is a member of a tribe or eligible for membership in a tribe, your family has the right to protection under the ICWA. These rights apply to any child protective case, adoption, guardianships, termination of parental rights action, runaway/truancy matter, or voluntary placement of your children.

When was this law passed?

The ICWA was created in 1978 by the federal government in order to re-establish tribal authority over the adoption of Native American children. The goal of the act when it passed in 1978 was to strengthen and preserve Native American families and culture.

Why was this law passed?

Before the ICWA was passed, a very high percentage of Indian families were broken up because non-tribal agencies removed children from their homes. One reason for the high removal rate was because state officials did not understand or accept Indian culture. Today, the ICWA sets minimum standards for the removal of Indian children from their homes.

Who does it apply to?

The law applies to Native American children who are unmarried and under age eighteen. The child must be either a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or must be eligible for membership in a federally recognized Indian tribe.

What does the law do?

The ICWA requires that placement cases involving Indian children be heard in tribal courts if possible, and permits a child's tribe to be involved in state court proceedings. It requires testimony from expert witnesses who are familiar with Indian culture before a child can be removed from his/her home. If a child is removed, either for foster care or adoption, the law requires that Indian children be placed with extended family members, other tribal members, or other Indian families.

What if a child is not living on the reservation does the ICWA still apply?

Yes. The ICWA has a notice requirement. This means that if a state takes a child into custody, it must give notice to the child's tribe, wherever the child may be in the U.S.

Does the act apply to a couple getting a divorce?


What if a parent allowed someone else to become a guardian of their child and later changes their mind?

The ICWA provides that an Indian parent always has the right to revoke a guardianship.

Which Maine tribes does the law apply to?

The law applies to all four Maine tribes: the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Penobscot Indian Nation. The Indian Child Welfare Act defines an Indian tribe as any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community of Indians recognized as eligible for the services provided to Indians by the Secretary [of the Interior] because of their status as Indians.

Who decides if am a member of the tribe?

The law does not apply a specific blood quantum as the criteria for membership. It leaves it up to each Native American tribe to make such determinations on their own.

What court can hear a case involving a Native American child?

Currently only the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes can decide these cases in Tribal Court. Cases involving Micmac or Maliseet children are likely to be held in Probate or District Court

Where can I get more information and help?

Aroostook Band of Micmac

Child Welfare Department
Attn: Rosella Silliboy, Director
8 Northern Rd.
Presque Isle, ME 04769
(207) 764-1972
(207) 768-3253 (fax)

Houlton Band of Maliseets

Child Welfare Department
Attn: Joseph Haney, Director
88 Bell Rd.
Houlton, ME 04730
(207) 532-5605
(207) 532-2402 (fax)

Penobscot Nation

Child Protective Services Department
Attn: Jan Lewey
6 River Rd.
Indian Island, ME 04468
(207) 827-7776, ext. (7495)
(207) 827-2397 (fax)

Passamaquoddy Tribe
 at Indian Township

Child Welfare Department
Attn: Molly Newell, Director
P.O. Box 343
Perry, ME 04667
(207) 853-2600
(207) 853-2405 (fax) 

Passamaquoddy Tribe
 at Pleasant Point

Social Services Department
Attn: Sonja Dana, Director
P.O. Box 301
Princeton, ME 04668
(207) 796-2301
(207) 796-5256 x335(fax)

Contact your tribal Child Welfare office:

  • Call the Maine Department of Human Services Central Intake office to find out who at DHS is involved with your case: 1-800-452-1999
  • Read more about ICWA on the web:

National Indian Child Welfare Association website
Text of the ICWA